Aspirin’s anti-cancer effects depend on a person’s genetic make-up

A person’s genetic make-up might determine whether they could benefit from taking aspirin to prevent bowel cancer, according to a US study. The findings also suggest that the drug could even increase cancer risk in a minority of people – although experts cautioned that more research was needed to confirm this.

The team combined the results of several previous studies on aspirin and other similar drugs – collectively called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs – comprising more than 8,600 people who went on to develop bowel cancer, and a similar number who remained healthy.

They then analysed participants’ DNA records, and looked at whether certain genetic variants, known as single-nucleotide polymorphisms, were more or less common in each group.

As well as confirming the overall benefits of aspirin in preventing the disease, they found that nearly one in 10 study participants (nine per cent) who had a particular genetic variation received no benefit from the drug.

And a further four per cent – one in 25 – who carried one of two other DNA variants appeared to have an increased likelihood of going on to develop bowel  cancer after taking aspirin.

Link to the research: Nan H, Hutter CM, Lin Y, et al. Association of Aspirin and NSAID Use With Risk of Colorectal Cancer According to Genetic Variants. JAMA. 2015;313(11):1133-1142. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.1815.

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